Sperm Count Zero

Daniel Noah Halpern, writing for GQ:

There has always been evidence that men, throughout life, are at higher risk of early death—from the beginning, a higher male incidence of Death by Mastodon Stomping, a higher incidence of Spiked Club to the Brainpan, a statistically significant disparity between how many men and how many women die of Accidentally Shooting Themselves in the Face or Getting Really Fat and Having a Heart Attack. The male of the species dies younger than the female—about five years on average. Divide a population into groups by birth year, and by the time each cohort reaches 85, there are two women left for every man alive. In fact, the male wins every age class: Baby boys die more often than baby girls; little boys die more often than little girls; teenage boys; young men; middle-aged men. Death champions across the board.

Now it seems that early death isn’t enough for us—we’re on track instead to void the species entirely. Last summer a group of researchers from Hebrew University and Mount Sinai medical school published a study showing that sperm counts in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past four decades. (They judged data from the rest of the world to be insufficient to draw conclusions from, but there are studies suggesting that the trend could be worldwide.) That is to say: We are producing half the sperm our grandfathers did. We are half as fertile.

Between the caging of immigrants and human beings losing the ability to reproduce, it’s clear that Children of Men has become a documentary.

The world’s first color-changing hair dye

Wired has a look at this color-changing hair dye, which makes for some spectacular time lapse videos:

Lauren Bowker’s firm The Unseen uses chemistry alongside design to create so-called “reactive fashion.” The brand’s patented colour-change technology focuses on material science and data to create bespoke inks, compounds and coatings that result in clothes that change colour with different temperatures and humidity. Within fashion circles, Bowker is known as ‘The Alchemist’.

Her latest creation, FIRE draws upon the powers of transformation that have epitomised her work. A specially formulated hair dye, FIRE is a chemical concoction that can reveal an array of colours previously unseen.

FIRE is designed to be responsive to temperature fluctuations, and is available in multiple colour ranges from bright red to subtle pastels. The data used to create the dye stems from the process of thermoregulation in the human skin and the colour change chemical reaction occurs in response to a certain stimuli – in this case, changes in the environment. When the temperature drops or rises, the carbon-based molecules at the core of the FIRE dye undergo a reversible reaction.

How ‘Black Mirror’ mirrors reality

Miranda Katz over at Backchannel has a comparison of Black Mirror episodes and their theoretically real-life counterparts:

What makes Black Mirror so chilling isn’t just its technologies, but their uncanny interplay with human behavior. The show can feel gratuitously pessimistic, yet it’s rooted in reality: nearly every scenario parallels something in our current world. In particular, an early episode disturbingly foreshadows the rise of Donald Trump.

It’s impossible to write off Black Mirror as fiction. So we’ve decided to nail down the parallels between the nightmares on screen and our world today. And so we present: the real-life equivalents of Black Mirror’s dystopias, loosely ordered by how closely each episode reflects our current reality.

The 5 personality traits that lead to well-being

Scott Barry Kaufman at Scientific American has findings about personality traits that are more likely to predict personal well-being. They are:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Low Withdrawl (i.e. from social situations)
  3. Industriousness
  4. Compassion
  5. Intellectual Curiosity

Assertiveness and Creative Openness were also found to be key predictors. Meanwhile, three traits that don’t predict well-being?

  1. Politeness
  2. Orderliness
  3. Volatility

Kaufman summarizes:

If anything, I think these findings are optimistic (maybe it’s because of my high levels of enthusiasm). For one, it highlights that there are multiple routes to well-being. But less well recognized, it also highlights that there are multiple personality profiles that can get you there. The standard story is that well-being is all about extraversion and emotional stability. But these findings show the importance of including a broader array of personality traits, and leaving open possibilities for individual changes in personality as well as cultural interventions that can help all people increase their happiness by influencing their patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Read the whole piece here.

The Physics of Crowds

Great piece by Emily Badger about the physics of crowds and why fatal stampedes happen, even in crowds comprised of peaceful, reasonable people:

The small movements of so many people aggregate into a powerful force – one that security officials are often helpless to halt – that has the capacity to knock over bodies, shove them together and, ultimately, asphyxiate them. This sounds impossible, but 21 people died at Love Parade inside a crowd that had essentially been standing still. There was no real crowd rush or dramatic “stampede.” And this is the heart of the mystery to non-scientists as to how such a thing could happen.

More Complicated Than Calories

From The Atlantic comes this report from Kristin Wartman that maybe what’s making us fat isn’t just the calories we eat: it’s the fact that we’re surrounded by pollutants and chemicals that are collectively and profoundly changing our metabolism:

Lustig echoes vom Saal’s belief that a wide range of substances in our food supply and our environment are likely leading to obesity and metabolic disease based on hosts of studies of various substances. These include soy-based infant formula, phthalates (used in many plastics), PCBs (found in coolant and electrical equipment), DDE (a type of pesticide), fungicides, and atrazine (a common pesticide).

If the obesogen theory comes to be accepted and casts doubt on the energy balance model, the food industry will be in trouble. It would be harder to keep promoting diet and “health” foods that may be low in calories but that also contain an array of substances that may actually prove to contribute to weight gain.

Did Jonah Really Get Swallowed by a Whale?

In this unexpectedly lyrical piece, Ben Shattuck tries to figure out if anyone in human history has ever been swallowed by a whale, then emerged days later in one piece to tell about it.

I’d like to believe in swallowings, but it’s tough. There is no air in the stomach, for one. There are acids. And if we are talking about sperm whales, which we are most of the time, there is the deadly passage through the 30-foot jaws lined with 8-inch teeth.

Still, you’d like to think it’s possible. You want to believe in an animal that can fit you inside them — that you might be consumed not piece-by-piece, mouthful-by-mouthful as sharks and bears would eat you, but wholly; to be encased as your full self, womb-like.

Dealing with Cancer

One of my favorite writers, Mary Elizabeth Williams, has been documenting her life with Stage 4 Melanoma in a series of extraordinary blog posts at Salon. Williams has written about how to talk to someone with cancer, and how to talk about cancer if you have it.

The post that moved me the most was her initial piece about what she’s doing to combat cancer. Williams is trying an experimental treatment and doing everything in her power to help others learn about her condition, in the hopes of contributing something to the science surrounding melanoma. May her strength continue to give others strength, and help them to face an uncertain day:

I am an experiment. And as the experiment continues, I intend to keep sharing it with you, giving you my take on what it’s like to both grapple with a potentially fatal illness, and to stand on the front lines of a treatment that just might revolutionize cancer care. Right now, I have a light, speckled rash all over my body, a condition I hope a new steroid cream will correct. My gums sometimes bleed. I have a slick, oily taste in my mouth, one that rendered the birthday cake my family made for me recently all but inedible. Yet when my daughters grandly marched it out from the kitchen, I smiled gamely and posed for pictures. Then I made a wish. Not just for me, but for all of us living here in Stage 4, and for all those yet to someday get that devastating, life-changing phone call. Let all this be worth it, I thought. Let it work. And I blew out the candles.